Fulfill Your Potential

January 17, 2000

3 min read


Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )

In a popular film some years ago, the main character dies and goes to the "next dimension" where he is asked to defend his life down here on earth. According to Jewish tradition, there is no concept of actually "defending" oneself in the afterlife. Yet given Hollywood's recent spate of interest in Kabballah, one wonders if the writer of this film hadn't spent a little time studying the esoteric teachings himself. Because the mystical teachings do say that a person will be shown what he accomplished in life -compared to what he could have done had he taken full advantage of earthly existence. In fact, it is the soul's sense of embarrassment at the realization of what could have been accomplished that is, according to some sources, the Jewish definition of "hell."

This week's Parsha - and for that matter the entire fifth book of the Torah - is called Devarim which means "words." The "words" being referred to are Moses' divinely directed farewell speech to the Jewish People. Before his death, Moses presented to the Jewish people an eloquent review of the past 40 years including in his words admonishments and great moral insights. The concept of lost opportunities appears over and over again.

From the very outset, Moses chastises the Jews for "what could have been." Deuteronomy 1:2 notes that it is but "eleven days (journey) from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea." As Rashi notes, this verse was a subtle rebuke of the nation: Because of their sins, it took them 40 years to reach the Promised Land, a trip which should have taken a mere eleven days.

Next, Moses reminds the nation, how (40 years earlier) he had established a judicial system so that he would not have to guide them alone.But, as Rashi points out, here too the people erred. How could the people forego the opportunity of having Moses as their legal arbiter? Shouldn't they have protested this new arrangement?!

Perhaps most troubling of all, is Moses' next topic: the sin of the spies. Ten spies are sent as an advance guard to reconnoiter the land of Canaan prior to its invasion. The spies come back from the land and report that it is unconquerable. At this point, the people have a choice: either to believe the spies, or to believe in God's assurances that all would be well. Incredibly, the people opt to believe the messengers of flesh and blood!As a consequence, Moses now reminds his listeners, the nation was sentenced to 40 years wandering in the desert.

By contrast, we can look at the life of Moses, a man who is known to have fulfilled tremendous potential.

The book of Devarim begins by announcing "These are the words that Moses spoke before the children of Israel..." This notion that Moses had become a man identified with majestic speech is truly remarkable. Some 40 years earlier, at the Burning Bush, when the Almighty asked Moses to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt, he flatly out refused. The reason Moses gave was "I am not a man of words." Now 40 years later, this man who had felt ill equipped to express himself issued forth with wonderful month-long soliloquy that constitutes 20 percent of our Torah!

Each of us has the choice whether or not to fulfill our potential. Make the commitment today. Because tomorrow may be too late!

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